Roman Shleinov, investigative journalist of Vedomosti
What challenges do investigative journalists face in Russia?
Investigative journalism in Russia has the same problems as anywhere in the world, because everywhere in the world public officials do not like to answer difficult questions. The problem in Russia is that the civil society is weak and can not influence on public officials the way citizens can in, for example, Europe or the USA. That’s why our officials feel quite safe. Sometimes they prefer not to answer any questions. Sometimes, they understand that even if this information will be published, nothing will happen.
What is the attitude that officials have towards journalists?
Even if the officials do not like the published information, they feel that no serious change will happen. So I don’t see difficulties for myself when I work. But for regional journalists, this can be a huge problem, because they are in a very closed system. They have regional governments, with regional officials, who are very close to each other. Sometimes they can send police to the office of the newspaper, and confiscate computers. There were cases in Russia when journalists were accused of various crimes. It’s better to look deeper into the Russia’s regional media, and small newspapers in Moscow. They have a much more difficult time, and it is much more dangerous.
So famous opposition newspapers don’t feel the repression at all?
This is the Russian reality. The circulation of Russian newspapers like “Vedomosti” , “Novoya Gazeta,” “New Times” magazine and “Forbes” are not so big. Officials usually do not care about their opinion, because they have less than one million readers. When the media reaches an audience of over one million, then they feel that something can be serious. That is why the television is under state control. You can`t imagine that state television will show some critics of “Gasprom” or something like this. We even give comments to state TV-channels, because sometimes we don’t know how they will turn these comments.
Did you have a negative experience with TV?
I remember that many years ago, some journalists from the state TV came and asked me questions about some criminal cases I was investigating. He asked me not to criticize the Prosecutor General’s office. The same people came to me again and asked to know everything about corruption at the Prosecutor General’s office. So it really depends on what is going on in the political world. The censorship exists there.
What about an international network of investigative journalists, how often do you collaborate with your colleagues?
We do not collaborate too often. But a couple of years ago, I took part in the investigation dedicated to the asbestos industry. I discovered the Russian involvement with the global asbestos industry. In 2007-2008, we covered the smuggling of cigarettes from Russia to the EU and other regions. ICIG helps journalists from different countries stay in touch and ask each other questions. It is very helpful.
As you mentioned, sometimes investigative journalism in Russia does not have any results…
Nobody thinks that there will be a political change. We understand that the situation is much more difficult. There are no independent courts, there are no independent investigations and civil society. There is no reaction. But at least people know the truth. The most important thing is that information is out there. Yes, sometimes we do have no hope of change. We hope that someone, somewhere, will react and start his own investigation. Disappointment does not mean that we should not continue our work.